Measuring sociability in dairy cows

JM Gibbons, AB Lawrence, MJ Haskell

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53 Citations (Scopus)


Sociability is the relative preference of individual animals to seek out close contact with conspecifics. The aim of this study was to develop suitable tests that could be used to measure the sociability of individual cows on commercial farms. A standardised runway test was used as a ‘‘gold standard’’ test of social motivation and was repeated three times on 46 focal cows. In the runway test, the average latency to reach 5m and 2m from the herd and the time spent in these areas were recorded and analysed for repeatability. Latency to reach the 5m line over the three tests was the most repeatable variable (0.54) and was taken as ameasure of social motivation against which to assess othermeasures of sociability shown by the cows in their home-pen. The home-pen measures were the distance of each cow to the two nearest neighbours, location of the cow in the cow shed, and the level of synchrony based on individual behaviour of each focal cow compared with the rest of the herd’s behaviour. Cows that had high latencies to reach the 5m line had fewer recordings with two near neighbours (W1 = 5.31, P = 0.021), were less synchronised with the herd (W1 = 4.82, P = 0.028), were not present at the feedface during peak feeding (W1 = 4.13, P = 0.042) and stood at the periphery of the cow shed (W1 = 4.03, P = 0.045). These results indicate that these measures could be used to assess the sociability of individual dairy cows in on-farm studies. 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84 - 91
Number of pages8
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Publication statusFirst published - 2010

Bibliographical note



  • Dairy cattle
  • Runway test
  • Sociability
  • Temperament


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